Here are a few of the performers from the Women in Jazz Jam Festival discussing their experiences as musicians. See them perform in Knoxville, TN, on March 18-20, 2016.


Sarah Clapp

What is your instrument?  I’m a singer/songwriter and I play the piano.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? Often, musicians think singers are less knowledgeable, and [we] are dubbed “dumb.” I took Jazz Theory, and have spent years listening to instrumental jazz players (just as Ella Fitzgerald did) in order to try & grasp jazz from the viewpoint of a musician. That way, I can better communicate with my band, and combat the stereotype of singers who don’t understand the concepts of jazz.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? If you enjoy listening to lyrics and vocalists, try Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Madeline Peyroux (since we’re focusing on promoting females in jazz). Allow yourself to rise & fall with the unique sounds of their voices. Ella has more complex vocal “chops” than most jazz singers, as she can truly mimic instruments. Billie and Madeline (though they sound very similar) have more of a lazy sway about how they approach the notes. If you need a good jazz instrumental album, I always reach for Keith Jarrett and Charlie Hayden’s Jasmine album. Pure poetry.


Deidre Ford

What is your instrument? I sing, as well as, play clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax, alto sax, baritone sax, flute and piano.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? It wasn’t a huge deal at the time, but I was once told directly that girls had no place in the horn line. I reminded this person that they had called me to sub in with their group in the past. On sax.

It bothers me that I felt like I had to pretend to be amused in order to protect my playing options. I felt like I should just leave it alone, or else word would get around that I was hard to work with. I don’t think men have to deal with that kind of conversation. I wish I had stood up for my self more that day.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? Listening! Lots of listening, especially to live music. Go to performances, and watch how the musicians interact in real time. Find a great teacher, and listen to the stories they tell, not just the technical instructions. Sometimes finding the background can keep you motivated and give you inspiration. Don’t play an instrument? So what! Pick one. Already play one? Doesn’t mean you can’t play another, even if it’s just to explore a different instrument’s point of view. Knoxville has an outstanding wealth of jazz educators and performers in the area.


Katy Free

What is your instrument? I’m a vocalist. I play a bit of piano.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? Often, it surprises people for me to be in charge at a gig and to know what I’m doing. I’ve had people try to pay male band members instead of me when it was my band, or to ask them questions instead of coming to me. I find that I have a journey of proving myself before I can get anything done. At the same time, I would also say that because of those aspects of being a female musician, I have had stronger connections with other female musicians.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? Miles Davis – Kind of Blue


Jeanine Fuller

What is your instrument? I am a vocalist. My vocal range varies quite a bit, but I’d safely say I am a mezzo soprano voice.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? My biggest challenge was actually finding my own “voice,”so to speak, as a vocalist and truly believing that I can get respect as a female musician/singer in a predominantly male driven field.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? Respect the art and other artists. Engulf yourself in music. Always be creative and inspired. Be disciplined but have fun. Surround yourself with wonderful mentors. Be grateful for every opportunity to play or sing. Believe in yourself and put yourself out there. And most importantly don’t give up your craft. You can take a break but don’t give up!

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 Dana Gipson

What is your instrument? I sing! I play saxophone, drums, guitar, bass, piano, ukulele, and a little bit of flute.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? A common challenge I’ve dealt with over the years is the lack of diversity found in music, and even more so in jazz music. Female musicians are far outnumbered by males – to a young female student-musician, it can be discouraging to have very few musicians to look up to that you can relate to in that way. Most popular female jazz artists are singers, as singing was the main focus for women in early jazz. I feel as though as time goes on, there will be more and more female musicians and even more interested in playing jazz.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? I would begin listening and finding what you like! There are so many types of jazz music that can span several genres. Some modern jazz has rock, classical, R&B, electronic and many other influences in it. There’s plenty of types of jazz that anyone can enjoy, that may not be what many people see [as] jazz. I would say to anyone new to jazz music, whether it be playing or listening, is to take your time, and find your sound, and what you would like to hear. Jazz can be heard and felt as well. You’ll find your soul has ears, too.

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 Anna Helms

What is your instrument? I mainly play alto saxophone, but I’m going to try singing one song with the group!

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? I feel like it hasn’t been as much of a challenge for me as it is/was for a lot of women. But once when I was playing as the only woman in a big band I was messing up the feel, and my director told me it’s because women never feel anything. So sometimes people act like it’s expected for women to mess up, and there’s no reason for that.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? It depends on what you like already! I think jazz encompasses almost all types of American music. If you like hip hop, check out some of the songs that are sampled or the musicians in the backing band. But if you don’t know where to start, some of my early favorites were Amy Winehouse, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, and Art Blakey.



Kelle Jolly

What is your instrument? I sing. I think I have a classical voice. I started band as a trumpet player. Then I learned French Horn and mellophone. I can play bass, a little. I can play spoons and hum a kazoo. And I strum ukulele.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? One of my challenges has been figuring out who I am as an artist. Ten years ago a fan sent me to New York to meet Nona Hendryx. I was young. And I couldn’t tell her what I stood for as an artist. I think about that missed opportunity every day. But it also taught me that I need to expose myself to more so I can articulate what it is I believe. And I also learned to be ready!

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start?  Listen to a lot of music. Hey, I’m going to plug my show: Listen to Jazz Jam on Friday’s at 8 p.m., as well as all the other jazz shows on WUOT 91.9FM. It’s the only jazz show in East Tennessee that features vocalists. I think vocal jazz is a “gateway” music. You’ll recognize more instrumentals when you know the lyrics.


Dara Tucker  (Headliner)

What is your instrument? I sing and play piano.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? Learning how to be a part of the band. You want there to be as little space as possible between the band and the singer. Ideally, the singer is an equally contributing member of the band. There’s a camaraderie there that allows the audience to experience the group as a single unit, rather than the star out front, with her supporting, lesser members standing behind her. Learning how to incorporate the band more in what I do is a constant uphill battle. Developing more consistency with my band members is definitely a goal in the near future. Musicians speak their own language. They respond to singers who understand that language. My goal is to learn more about what they do, and how they do it, so I can be as much of an asset to them as they are to me.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? Start by building your craft. That’s the first step. Learn how to do what it is you want to do. Don’t focus on those who seem to get away with being mediocre, but are somehow able to build a career anyway. We have enough of those people. Listen to the greats. Put yourself in an environment where you are surrounded by great singers and musicians. Learn to perform with a band. Don’t isolate yourself. Then, begin to find your own voice. Figure out what it is you do that no one else does. Don’t be afraid to be different. You may have to fight for it, but it’s worth the fight.

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Christina Watson (Headliner)

What is your instrument? I’m a vocalist, first and foremost. I play enough piano to accompany the vocal lessons I teach and to work on my own charts and to compose, which I would like to do more often.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome? In the beginning of my career, I did feel more like a “chick singer,” due to my lack of experience, but when the instrumentalists found out that I graduated from Berklee College of Music and that I had written the charts that they were reading, I began to feel a higher level of respect. I rarely feel that being female is a challenge. I don’t even think about it, to be honest.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? I started out with people like Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, and Frank Sinatra. Find a vocalist or instrumentalist with whom you feel a connection, and listen to everything they recorded. I eventually came to Carmen McRae and decided that she has the best sense of phrasing of all the jazz singers. People hear Nancy Wilson in my singing sometimes, so I guess that means I have listened to her a lot, too. I have learned something from them all.


Maria Williams

What is your instrument? I sing for sheer love, but I play bass to make myself useful.

As a female musician, what is a challenge you have overcome?  At present, I’m working to overcome the challenge of NOT being a female jazz musician, though I’ve always wanted to be. By the time this project is concluded, I hope to have earned my entry-level platform shoes and gardenia.

Simply as a female musician, my greatest challenges involve being heard . . . . It really is true. In a spirited conversation, even the best of progressive men often have a hard time hearing voices in the female range. But the truth is that without confidence, we confirm others’ disinclination to listen to us. For me, the hardest part of being heard is convincing MYSELF to listen to my own instincts and to trust them.

Looking back on a life in music spent wading up to my knees and then floundering back to the shore, it’s been my own limiting fear – keeping me from taking myself, my capabilities, and my stories seriously – that I regret the most. That’s why I’m so deeply thankful for the mentoring available to young girls and women today. Art nonprofits for children, Girls’ Rock Camp, the Women in Jazz Jam Festival – these kinds of efforts enable girls and young women to see themselves from the start as the musicians they were meant to be.

I’m new to jazz music. Where should I start? Come on with me – we’ll find out together!

© Knoxzine, 2016.


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